Tuesday, June 29, 2010

UPDATE - Redeemer (Temporarily) Goes Multi-site


A few days ago I wrote the post below with the title "Redeemer (Officially) Goes Multi-site."  That was based on Tim Keller's letter that was posted on the Aquila Report. 

Today I had the pleasure of meeting Tim Keller.  He and I found ourselves serving on the Bills and Overtures Committee of our denomination.  During a quiet moment he introduced himself and we spoke  about my article and the concerns I raised. 

One of those who commented on my post was of the opinion that Redeemer's announcement was temporary in nature.  I wasn't so sure.  For the record, Tim informed me that Redeemer's announcement should be understood as a temporary arrangement as they prepare for his eventual succession.  Currently he is preaching at all four locations each Sunday.  In the short run he and the lead pastors will share preaching responsibilities - he will preach one week, they will preach the next, etc.  This will give the four Redeemer sites time to acclimate to the new preachers.  As time goes on Tim will preach less and less until such time as the lead pastors take it over completely.

Tim also indicated that Redeemer's plan is to create, with presbytery's help, four self-governing congregations (particular churches).   Each church will start off with a Session of seven ruling elders.  For now the lead pastors will be associate pastors of Redeemer Presbyterian serving on one single session until the time arrives to create the four churches. 

I thank Tim for speaking with me and graciously helping me understand what is going on.  Our conversation was very cordial and he was very much a gentleman.  My apologies to Tim and those at Redeemer for speaking without having all the facts. 


Yes, I know that the big news of the week in the PCA is that
Leo Schuster to be one of Four Lead Pastors for separate congregations of Redeemer NYC.  However, buried in the announcement are a number of things that are troubling.  Front and center is that Redeemer is not splitting up and forming four independent congregations.  Rather, it is following the multi-site model with one Session overseeing four 'congregations' (the term is in quotes to differentiate it from 'particular churches', the Book of Church Order term for self-governing congregations). 

Here is Tim Keller in his own words:

One of the main tasks the elders were given was to search and select new Lead Pastors, each of whom would direct one congregation under my leadership, and who would share the preaching ministry in that congregation with me. For nine months we have looked both within our church and across the country to find these pastors.

Lead Pastor - A term not defined by our constitution.
Congregation - A term usually synonymous with 'particular church' but not in this case.
Under my leadership - What is Rev. Keller's role?  Is he the Lead Pastor of Lead Pastors?  Is he the CEO of Redeemer Inc.?  Is he the Archbishop of Manhattan?

Here's more...
Before introducing the men to you below, first please save this date - September 22, 2010 7:00 PM.  On that evening we will hold a special service where we will begin the process of forming four congregations with these lead pastors.
According to our constitution the presbytery forms new churches.  It appoints a commission to examine officer candidates, ordain and install them.  The presbytery also examines ministers who are then ordained and installed by the presbytery.  How is that Redeemer will be forming congregations?  Where is the presbytery's role in all of this?

Here's more...

During the summer we will begin the work of organizing leadership and officers into four distinct teams and over the next 12 months we will need you to step up and serve in the areas you are gifted so that each congregation is ready to launch some time in 2011.
Organizing leadership - The constitution of the PCA specifies how leadership of the congregation is to be established - elders and deacons for each particular church.  Nowhere does the Book of Church Order address 'teams'.  Obviously, their model of 'congregations' and 'leadership' is novel, to say the least.

And here is the mission...
Remember that although we will become four neighborhood-based congregations, we will still be one church under one Session and we will work side by side in many areas of ministry as one unified body seeking to renew this city with the gospel.
One church, in four separate locales, under one Session.  Again, a novel interpretation of the Book of Church Order.  Ever hear of the franchise model of business?  It has entered the church. 

One brother has written a very thoughtful piece about this development.
A New Era To Begin for Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City  I encourage you to read it and follow the links. 

I'm no expert on such matters.  It just strikes me as odd that at this moment, when the PCA is in turmoil over the deaconess issue and the proposed Strategic Plan (both of which were heavily influenced by Redeemer, Inc.), comes this news.   I am well aware the Redeemer is not the first church in the PCA to go multi-site, but it is the most high-profile.  We are way beyond the proverbial camel's nose being under the tent.   Fellow presbyters in the PCA: What will you do?


chris hutchinson said...


I am no fan of the multi-site model, mostly due to how it stretches the pastor thin and makes him something of a talking head flitting btwn congregations. However, as a temporary measure until a church planter can be found, it may be useful.

As far as Redeemer goes, my understanding is that it is Keller's plan to have these four eventually be their own congregations, once he steps down. He is trying to be realistic about the need for Redeemer to become multiple congregations, rather than trying to replace him, e.g. Coral Ridge. But they may not be there yet, since so much of it is based upon his preaching skills.

If they don't make progress towards particularizing these four different congregation, than that is a real problem, imo, because it will create a permanent semi-diocese within a presbytery!

Dave Sarafolean said...


Thanks for the insight. If they eventually become 4 separate congregations, great. However, I'm not sure.

We already have multi-site works in San Diego and Seattle. Others are in the planning stages. I'm concerned that they are here to stay.

I share your concern about the pastor being stretched but there is a greater danger in all of this: the diminution of the ruling elder. One Session called to oversee 4 congregations each with hundreds of members? What's lost is the ruling elder's role as shepherd -- that is now delegated to the 'leadership' and 'ministry teams' of each 'congregation.' Put differently, the 'leadership' and 'ministry teams' that Redeemer is forming will usurp the constitutional authority of rulings elders and supplant their role as shepherds of the flock. Under the multi-site model the ruling elders just rule and make decisions from afar.

Redeemer has led the way in re-shaping the office of deacon (as defined by the BCO) treating it as an anachronistic Presbyterian practice that ought to be replaced by 'commissioned' men and women. Now I see a similar thing happening to the role of ruling elders. BCO 8-3 is pretty clear that being a ruling elder is not synonymous with being a corporate VP.

When will the novelty cease? When will people who have vowed obedience to our constitution stop treating it as elastic, or worse, a living, breathing document?

chris hutchinson said...


I assume that each congregation will be assigned Ruling Elders that act as shepherds/teachers/elders, cf I Peter 5, and then only meet as a board once/month to discuss the works as a whole. But maybe that is because I generally assume folks follow standard practice and eschew innovation. But you may be right.

Darin Stone said...


I served for three and a half years as an assistant pastor at Harbor PCA in San Diego, which is the largest multi-site, multi-congregational church in the PCA. From personal experience, I can tell you that this model is anything but Presbyterian.

Harbor has nine sites and, when I left, only six RE's. The church planter served with virtually no oversight from the Session because most of the elders never once visited our site. This contributed to a number of significant lapses in congregational care and pastoral accountability. It is not safe to assume that franchise/multi-site churches will have elders or even seek to develop them to oversee their particular site.

In the PCA, church members take vows to submit “to the government and discipline of the church” and elders vow “to walk with exemplary piety before the flock.” When elders rarely if ever visit sites other than the one they regularly attend, membership and ordination vows become meaningless. Elders can't shepherd and discipline members they would never have occasion to meet. Members can't meaningfully submit to elders who never attend their site. I’m unaware of any place in the history of the church where elders never once attended a congregation they vowed to oversee. But this kind of practice is part of the reality of the multi-site/franchise model.

Chris is right. It's essentially an Episcopalian polity disguised as Presbyterianism. At Harbor, the senior pastor functions as the bishop who executes his authority through the church planters (classified as associate pastors) that function like parish priests. So what you get is the church planter running the show at his site(s) with little to no accountability to the Session or his particular site/congregation.

Dave, you're also right. Ministry teams do end up usurping the authority of the Session because those teams have accountability to no one other than the church planter who, again, is the parish priest through whom the senior pastor/bishop is welding his power. I believe we should take the priesthood of the believers seriously, but doing so doesn't mean that we virtually do away with oversight of a local congregation by a plurality of elders.

Simply put, this model is an ends justifies the means approach to church planting.

I'm sensitive to Redeemer's unique situation with Tim Keller having such a strong following. My hope is that this set-up will be temporary and that they will expedite the particularization process. But Presbyteries should be aware that this church planting philosophy is a subversion of the polity we have vowed to submit ourselves to and as contributing to a whole host of congregational oversight, care, and pastoral accountability issues.

Dave Sarafolean said...


Thanks so much for your comments. They confirm what I (and I believe) Chris have suspected. This is why I raised the question in my original post: Are the presbyters of the PCA just going to look the other way?

Bobby Avant said...

Actually the most prominent example of a multi-site church model in the PCA was Perimeter in Atlanta. For a number of years back in the 80s Perimeter was a church with 4-5 sites in the Atlanta area but eventually all the sites became independent congregations. I suspect the same will happen with Redeemer as well.

The New Life churches in Philadelphia also functioned for a time as a presbytery within a presbytery.

I don't think any of this is a cause for alarm. Its a temporary situation.